Academics and trade unionists protest legal threats used to end American University in Cairo strike

In a statement released today, leading academics and trade unionists from major UK and Australian universities condemned the tactics used by managers at the American University in Cairo (AUC) to end a strike by cleaning staff who are being laid off in preparation for the privatisation of the university’s Housekeeping service.

Workers began a sit-in on 16 July which ended after 11 days when AUC management filed complaints with the police and banned the striking workers from campus. The strike won support from hundreds of AUC staff and students who signed an open letter to management calling for cleaning services to remain in house.

Protest statement on AUC Housekeeping strike

As academics and trade unionists we are appalled to hear that management at the American University in Cairo has filed reports with the police in order to end a strike by staff in Housekeeping Services who are challenging the plans to privatise the university’s cleaning services. Over 170 cleaners, some of whom have worked for AUC for ten years, began a strike and sit-in on 16 July in protest at the university’s decision to outsource cleaning to two private companies with no guarantee that existing workers would be re-employed while only offering severance pay equivalent to six months’ wages to the majority of existing staff as they are on temporary contracts. The strike won overwhelming support from the AUC community with over 600 staff and students signing a petition in solidarity with the strikers and calling on management to reverse their decision.

As we know from bitter experience in universities across the world, outsourcing does not create better environments for learning and research. Rather it subjects our colleagues who provide vital services such as cleaning, catering and security to greater pressures of work, decreases their rights in the workplace and often involves significant loss of pay while exposing them to harassment and victimisation by their employers when they try to organise.

In the context of Egypt today it is particularly reprehensible that AUC management has responded to the workers’ demands by threatening legal action following the recent spate of arrests and court cases against trade unionists, such as the Alexandria Shipyard workers, leaders of the independent union in the Cairo Public Transport Authority and workers at Torah Cement.

We call on AUC management to withdraw complaints filed with police against striking Housekeeping staff and to rescind its decision to privatise the cleaning service.

Professor Nadje al-Ali, SOAS

Sandy Nicoll, SOAS UNISON Branch Secretary

Lenin Escudero, SOAS UNISON Cleaners Representative

Dimitri Cautain, SOAS Students’ Union, Co-President Welfare & Campaigns

Renata Albuquerque, SOAS UNISON Environmental Representative

Graham Smith, SOAS UNISON Senate House Representative

Dr Carlo Morelli, University of Dundee and UCU NEC

Professor James Dickins, Professor of Arabic, University of Leeds

Sean Wallis, vice president, UCL UCU, UCU NEC member

Professor John Parrington, University of Oxford

Professor Henry Maitles, Professor in Education, University of the West of Scotland

Dr John Chalcraft, LSE

Dr Colin Barker, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Marian Mayer, Senior Lecturer
Vice Chair Bournemouth University, UCU, H&S representative, Chair UCU Southern Region

Dr Adam Hanieh, Senior Lecturer, Department of Development Studies, SOAS

Dr Jill Daniels, Senior Lecturer, University of East London

Dr Simon Hewitt, University of Leeds

Dr Waseem Yaqoob, Fixed-term University Lecturer in History, University of Cambridge
Branch Secretary, Cambridge UCU

Dr Rebecca Gould, University of Bristol

Professor Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies & International Relations, SOAS

Dr Lucia Sorbera, University of Sydney

Elane Heffernan, UCU NEC (personal capacity)

Dr Mark Abel, Chair UCU Coordinating Committee, University of Brighton

Professor Philip Marfleet, University of East London

Professor Malcolm J. W. Povey, Professor of Food Physics, University of Leeds